Australia Weather News

The risk of melioidosis has spread to Central Australia this year due to heavy desert rains. - ABC

Central Australian residents are being warned against the potentially deadly mud disease melioidosis following heavy wet season rains in desert regions across the Northern Territory.

Melioidosis is a potentially lethal bacteria typically found in soil and muddy water across the Top End.

It is present in the soil all year round, however it comes to the surface after drenching rains commonly associated with the tropical wet season that begins in October.

"Most years we say it is a Top End disease because we think of the centre as desert with not too much rain," the NT Health Department's Vicki Krause said.

However, this season the potential risk has spread following heavy rains that flooded a Central Australian community over the Christmas break.

"There's already been one case [of melioidosis] in the centre and we expect there to be more," Ms Krause said.

"After these drenching rains and flooding, melioidosis is present even in Central Australia."

Ms Krause said the risk spread to the lower parts of the Territory about every six years and that people in the Barkly region should also be vigilant this wet season.

"This is a serious disease and there are deaths every year."

How can you avoid the mud disease?

Humans can contract the bacteria through drinking groundwater, getting dirt into cuts and abrasions, or by breathing the contaminated particles after it becomes aerosolised in windy weather.

It is known locally by some as Nightcliff gardener's disease because of its association with muddy soil.

The time from infection to acute disease ranges from one to 21 days and symptoms can vary greatly, from fever, cough and breathing difficulties in early stages through to severe pneumonia and sores that will not heal.

It is advised people wear waterproof footwear around mud, soil and areas of pooled water and to wear gloves when handling soil or mud-soaked items.

The fatality rate is between 10 and 15 per cent in the Territory.

Treatment typically involves antibiotics and hospitalisation.

ABC